Area governments owe county more than $2M
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org August 10, 2012 9:16PM
Chicago Heights: $591,598.47
Sauk Village: $499,250.06
Evergreen Park: $301,432.43
Orland Hills: $173,563.42
Chicago Ridge: $64,544.17
Country Club Hills Fire
Harvey Park District: $22,854.30
School Trustees of Thornton
Oak Lawn: $12,344.53
Orland Fire Protection
Harvey Public Library District:
Thornton Township: $6,541.95
Palos Park: $1,453.95
Updated: September 13, 2012 6:06AM
Southland municipalities owe Cook County more than $2 million due to property tax refunds and overpayments, according to county officials.
County Treasurer Maria Pappas sent out collection letters in June asking for repayment of the debts, which range from less than $1,000 to more than $500,000.
Not everyone is on board with repaying the money. Some local officials say they don’t owe any money and weren’t given an adequate explanation for the bills.
“They’re saying they’re owed it, but they have no proof,” Crestwood village services director William Graffeo said. “They can say that, but there’s nothing there.”
Sauk Village, Harvey, Chicago Heights, Evergreen Park, Orland Hills, Crestwood, Chicago Ridge, Homewood and Oak Lawn are among the towns that the county says owe it money. These municipalities set up special taxing districts to spur development or bank accounts for construction projects.
The bank accounts and the special taxing districts were given an overpayment of property taxes. In turn, the treasurer’s office issued refunds after the bank accounts and special taxing districts were closed and their money disbursed.
Now, the treasurer’s office — which claims it is owed $11.4 million from local governments across Cook County — is looking to the municipalities for the cash. Southland towns owe the county about $2.3 million.
Joseph Fratto, Cook County chief deputy treasurer, said that his office has not yet told the state’s attorney’s office to sue anyone for refusing to pay.
“Most of the villages will want to pay,” Fratto said. “A lot of it has to do with budget pressure. The decision is a difficult one, I’m sure.”
The decision may be more difficult for some cash-strapped governments. Chicago Heights, which ran a $1.1 million budget deficit in the 2010-11 fiscal year, owes the treasurer about $591,000.
City Treasurer Jim Dee said he believes the city owes the money because of tax refunds that occurred before Mayor Dave Gonzalez took office. The city is reviewing the county’s claims.
Sauk Village owes Cook County nearly $500,000. Village manager Henrietta Turner did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.
County officials say Harvey owes $465,600, a debt city spokeswoman Sandra Alvarado said the city has agreed to repay. Oak Lawn finance director Brian Hanigan also said the village plans to repay the county the approximately $12,300 it owes.
Evergreen Park owes about $301,000 to the county. Village financial director John Sawyer said the money relates to property tax refunds that were given to businesses located in a special taxing district which closed in 1998.
He said the businesses paid their property tax bills, challenged them before Cook County’s property tax appeal board, won their appeals and the county gave them refunds years after the taxing district was closed and its remaining money was disbursed. Now the county is looking to the village for the refunded money.
“It’s a trick bag,” Sawyer said. “Who’s wrong here?”
Orland Hills is in a similar situation, owing the county about $173,000. Village administrator John Daly said he would sit down with the office to make sure this problem doesn’t happen again. But the village isn’t paying the county anytime soon because the village needs to “substantiate the claims.”
Homewood finance director Dennis Bubenik and Palos Park finance director Barbara Maziarek both are unclear why the county claims their villages owe $44,000 and $1,400, respectively.
“They sent us a bill without any explanation,” Bubenik said, adding that the issue has been referred to village attorneys. “We’ll pay your bill, but tell us what we’re paying for and why.”